Let me just come out and say this one thing that anybody should listen to and accept: life is a motherfucker, and it will fucking nail you to the wall if you make poor decisions constantly.
I’m 22 years old. I’ve just accepted a position doing some part time work at a brand new restaurant beside my old high school called carribea. I’m still working full time at the general, but I usually work two jobs to stay afloat, because, let’s face it, cooking wages are impossible to live on and drugs are expensive.
I’m working with a buddy of mine from college. He used to work at a couple high end places in Niagara on the lake, a posh little fine dining/high art town. It was good for the first little while. The owners there liked me. There were four owners(spoiler alert: problem). Two brothers who worked cement and a couple ex-casino workers all pooled money together and bought the place. With some renovations, new equipment and so was a new spin on a restaurant/bar. The place was going to be a restaurant by day a bar at night and we would hold family dinners, buffets, a la carte menu, host parties and golf tournaments, have live music, karaoke, open mic night, ladies night, pool night and cheap food night. We would sponsor local soccer, softball, pool, dart, bowling and hockey teams. They gave away t-shirts, played loud music and had pretty girls working the bar. The ideas were endless and I had no idea all of this was steering me from success.
We were open for a couple months already and the owners weren’t getting the reception they wanted. They were losing money. They needed some professional help, so they sat me down and we talked about becoming their new chef.
I wondered, what about the existing chef, Kyle? They would keep him too, but pay the both of us equal wages to run the place, equally. We would both carry the same responsibilities and split the salary and work off the schedule. Hmm, no problem there, right?
If you haven’t figured it out already, everything I just said was a giant sign saying ‘keep out’. I didn’t read that sign though, I went right on in. I’m 22. I know everything.
I quit the(high paying) general and started working full time at the carribea. I immediately jumped into working 12 hour shifts, opening for breakfast and covering into the dinner rush, and then I would spend my time off trying to create menus on the patio out front, or sometimes I would stay in my office, where my girlfriend could come see me if she wanted to talk to me. We never saw each other anymore and we lived together. This was how I started the chefs gig in this place and my life outside the restaurant was failing. I could hold onto my work life, though, right?
The food was great at first. I stopped pushing everyday items like fajitas and tacos and replaced them with lamb shanks gremolata, squash risotto, seared calamari with olives and spinach, mussels in rickards red with bacon and corn. Of course I tested the waters and ran them as specials before placing them on a permanent menu, which was always coming. The owners kept promising me good things were coming to me.
We did some catering to large parties. We had a disastrous time dealing with a couple restaurants that wanted to hold a year end party at our establishment. There were fights, people fucking in the bathroom, some racial slurs and a girl got her drink drugged. We held a golf tournament for around a hundred people too one day. We started with caesars and breakfast beers and sent the golfers out on their way, while we set up the buffet. A couple guys were literally removed from the golf course for stunt driving their carts or just breaking their axles. So they spent the rest of the day trickling into our place. I had to physically drag a disorderly golfer out of the kitchen, back to his bar stool. Our happy fine dining restaurant was quickly turning into a punchline of a never ending joke.
Ive been at the caribbea full time for about a month and a half now. My buddy frank has worked a couple shifts and hasn’t shown up for work today. He won’t return my phone calls and I have a couple huge catering events to execute and I need all the capable staff I can get. I watch with my jaw dropped as one of the owners has just packed up his stuff, told a couple people to fuck themselves and left. This was the start of things…
Complaints about food were becoming a problem when I wasn’t around so I decided to stick around a little more, to my girlfriends disliking. Customers who were regulars stopped coming in altogether and we started to rely on tourists as well as a bar crowd. I was really starting to stress about how I was going to solve these problems. I was losing weight and sleep. I didn’t feel well anymore.
I came in one morning after a day off to see the owners kid working away at a table in the back of the kitchen. We exchanged smiles and I passed him and went around the corner, in my office to get changed into uniform. I heard a voice from a server saying they had another complaint on the breakfast. The kid replied with a ‘meh. Not my problem.’ Kind of retort and I jumped around the corner in my checks and buttoning up my jacket.
‘ANOTHER complaint?’ I urged.
‘yeah, people say the French toast sucks.’ Jeff would respond. I told him to make me an order and I watched him craft a couple slices of bread, dipped in egg, vanilla, milk, and of course, cayenne pepper.
‘CAYENNE?! You’re serving these people fucking cayenne?’ I snapped.
‘huh. I thought it said cinnamon. My bad.’ The kid replied.
I turned and punched the door of the walk in fridge a couple times, breaking a finger in the process. A small trickle of blood came off my middle finger knuckle and I turned back to the owners kid who showed absolutely no sign of feeling; fear, surprise, remorse, nothing. Knowing I was crossing all boundaries I told the kid to ‘get the fuck out of my fucking restaurant’ before I killed him. Being one of the owners knuckledragging habitual masturbator kids, he was back the next morning, serving cayenne. Another time I watched as a staff member was serving a pizza out of our brand new, expensive pizza oven. I stopped to look it over. Something wasn’t right.
‘greg?’ let’s call this cook, for reference. ‘this cheese smells like piss. You aren’t going to serve that?’ I prodded.
‘uhh, does it? I didn’t hear any complaints from the take out customers.’ Was greg’s reply. Again, I spun and walked away, pitching my tongs across the kitchen, into the dish pit. The tongs flew true and landed on the floor after bouncing off a wall. ‘and clean that fucking mess up!’ I screamed as I slammed the door and lit three smokes, right off the end of the one prior.
I worked a couple weeks holding my middle finger straight out when I held my knife, cringing through the pain of chopping with a broken finger. It looked like I was flipping myself off the whole time. Even my own body was telling me to leave. Now. every time I chopped and cringed I’d look down at that middle finger sticking out, pointing into my face. Chop. Go fuck yourself. Chop. Go fuck yourself. Chop. Go fuck yourself.
A few months in and now our produce isn’t getting delivered by the local purveyors anymore due to debts owing and I have to rely on one of the owners parents to pick up food for me. They would come in grinning, holding rotten vegetables full of mould, baskets full as if to be holding a cornucopia telling me how much money they saved. Or they would bring in different cuts of meat from what I asked for, stating ‘pork tenderloin costs way more than this blade roast’.
I’m down staff, I can’t execute menus items because I’m simply not ‘allowed’ to get the ingredients we need, we’ve lost an owner and I think I just heard the dishwashing machine break.
So, the start was staggering. Soupie(owner) left his wife, my girlfriend and I were fighting, my partner chef was constantly drinking and missing or doing coke in the back, making lunch and throwing it in the garbage. He started calling in sick, weekly, or just didn’t show up. The restaurant is relying completely on me. At 22 I was a grown adult, but still just a child responsible for somebody else’s money.
Things would go like this for a while. I would throw out almost all of my vegetables because of rot, throw out expired, smelly cheese, scrape mold of the fridge walls or just throw out buckets of soup that simply were never put away, punch things and scream at staff. I hired and fired. I cut my hands taking out the garbage because kids would throw broken glass into the bags, multiple times. I was electrocuted using a steam table for the buffet. Whenever we had a customer I had to take care of the food, because I simply couldn’t rely on the owners kids. I had to be there always. The other guy, Kyle was never around, but still making the same pay as me.
There was one kid that worked nights. I liked him. he had heart for the place and was banging the owners daughter. Knowing what kind of nutjob the owner was, the kid had balls too. I’ve worked with him since. He turned out to be a good kid.
The remaining owners were at odds with each other. They would argue because they recovered old invoices that were never paid for, found in the garbage, or tucked away in a file where nobody was supposed to find it. The owners parents would get yelled at for spending precious money on things we didn’t order and the mother would constantly break into tears. Employees were breaking up fights between two of the owners. They turned most of the lights off when they could. We couldn’t run water very long. I received a pay cut for one pay cheque. We used the same dish water for long past its life. Fresh meats and seafoods came off the menu and the owners insisted frozen chicken fingers were served and that we froze all of our proteins immediately. They started buying low grade salad dressings, low grade wing sauces, low grade meat, low grade plastic wrap. They insisted I use a powdered alfredo sauce mix. I worked even more hours in a day to save cash from flying out the window. I was watching failing restaurant syndrome since I walked in the restaurant the first time, I just didn’t know it. The place was doomed from the start.
I had broken a couple fingers punching fridge doors and I was tugging away at grey hairs sprouting from my head. Did 22 year olds get greys? Heart palpitations? I walked through the restaurant like a zombie, trying to scrape up enough meat to feed myself and trying to find enough vegetables that weren’t full of mould to feed customers. I stopped going home some nights because I didn’t want to stay up fighting with the missus about why I was at work so much. Some nights I would crash in a motel room across the street and I would lie awake, smoking cigarettes and listen to people fight over cocaine scores and fuck.
One day I noticed a man in a suit come in to the restaurant. I peered out into the dark dining room(if there were no customers, they wouldn’t turn on the lights), and I watched as he handed a card to one of the owners who sat at the bar, smoking, with his hands holding his head in frustration. The two walked around the building while I went into my office and changed into my street clothes. I approached the two men and handed the owner my keys.
‘whats this?’ he asked.
‘the guy your showing around is a real estate agent. You’re selling the restaurant right from underneath me. I fucking quit.’ As I walked out the door I grabbed a beer from the back fridge and waited for my cab and sat in the parking lot, watching kids go to school for the morning.
And I went home and fought with the missus.
There is no harder a person to work for. Combover still frightens me. I worked for combover right after carribea, and I wouldn’t even have stuck around there for more than a month if it weren’t for ‘her’. If you want to hear some more of combovers antics, which included multiple erratic violent outbursts, you can check out a link ive provided: https://canadianwhiskyenthusiast.wordpress.com/canadian-whisky-3/canadian-club-premium/
My interview with combover;
Sniff, sniff. ‘you like the leafs?’ he was sitting in front of me, peering over my shoulder watching sportscenter behind the bar, he didn’t care if I existed or not. He was holding my resume and doodling pictures on it.
‘uhh, yeah. Yeah! I love the leafs.’ I blurted out surprising myself.
Sniff. ‘alright, you get 10 bucks, plus tips. Start tomorrow at noon. Be here early.’
And so I had a job at the little mountain, working for a guy I’m going to refer as combover.
I showed up the next day at 11:30. I don’t drive so I stood outside in the January cold, waiting for combover to show up. I smoked and listened to my walkman. It was 12:05 when he pulled up in a brand new Mercedes. He opened the back door and scalded me for being a smoker. I found it humorous so I laughed. Combover stopped talking and looked right into my eyes. ‘whats so fucking funny?’ he asked.
‘oh, I thought you were telling a joke, or something…’ my eyes trailed down away from his glare.
‘I don’t fucking joke about my business.’ Combover warned.
I started fumbling around in my pockets for something to kill the stink of smoke.
‘what is that, gum? Not in my place bud. Throw it out. I’m the best chef this city has to offer and you’re going to see why.’ We walked to the restaurant silently and I started my first shift.
My first week consisted of me working with a couple cool servers, a skinhead dishwasher who told me he was going to bootfuck me if I ever gave him a burnt pot, a couple cooks who didn’t really care if I was there or not and combover, my bipolar cocaine addled chef. Things were ok, I guess. He phoned me at home and scalded me for forgetting to order some produce, or not putting some bucket in the right area, even though it was his dishwasher, or a different cook most of the time. I just kinda put up with it. Once a day, combover would pass a staff member and start belittling them. It was startling at first, but I got used to it. He would just walk past somebody, turn around once he was out of your peripheral come up behind you and just snap.
‘what the fuck are you doing? Huh?’ the target would turn around.
‘I’m just cleaning this fish, chef.’
‘yeah, get fucked. Cleaning the fish, huh? I’m the best chef in this fucking city and you don’t get to be the best by fucking up the fish!’ he would turn and walk away again. And just when you thought you caught your licking, he would be behind you four seconds later. ‘and you know what cocksucker?! That fucking fish is expensive. If I see any waste you’re not getting your fucking tips, you dime a dozen fucking useless fuckpile!’ Then he would leave you alone for a bit.
combover was a real mans man in his own mind. Uber machismo. A real dickhead to the average person not dripping with testosterone and adrenaline. He was of average height and build, in his late forties and just fucking ADORED himself. A real narcissistic pile of wife abusing shit. He started balding at the front and wore a graying combover. He hated that he had to look up a bit to speak to me and loved to tell me of all the big guys he punched out when he was younger, because I was a big, pacifist guy who was just trying to earn a buck. I somehow needed to know this stuff. He was driven by a never ending coke buzz and an overwhelming urge to sleep with people that weren’t his wife.
He hired and fired weekly, held back money from my paycheque, stole tips from servers and physically assaulted the staff. this guy was my boss for 6 months.
The food at little mountain was confused. Good, but confused. It seemed to lack any sort of specific style. I think he called it Cajun/Italian fusion, whatever the fuck that is. We served incredible cornbread, crayfish etouffe, gumbo, Italian pasta dishes, soppresata, good quality steaks and an asian stir fry, naturally.
We cut steaks to order, finished them with butter. Our starches and sauces were good. We carried some good olive oil. In a place where you get a new partner every week because the last cook walked out or was tossed out the door(literally), the food had to be kept simple. That and I don’t know if combover had the capacity to run complex food.
Combover had a buddy named Sammy who would come in once a week on combovers day off to watch over the place. Sammy would eat the most expensive item on the menu stuffed with the second most expensive item on the menu for staff meal and flirt with combovers rapidly deteriorating wife. Let’s call her… maria. I watched maria degrade over six months faster than a 1992 ford Taurus. Whatever this chick looked like, I’ll never know. She looked as if leprosy was wasting her good looks. Sammy, who looked like stallone with an extra chromosome just loved to flirt with her. If combover were to ever find out, Sammy probably would have probably lost a finger.
Sammy was the macho hype man and combovers toady sidekick. One of those Niagara falls Italians. You know, the ‘hey why dontcha take a ride on ma ballsssss’ type of guys. The ‘whatayou lookin at?’ kinda of dickhead.
In the summer Sammy played the role of obnoxious carnie and ridicule people on the street into coming in to the restaurant to eat. That and call people who didn’t like the leafs faggots. To this day I figure Sammy to be about 50 and I think he still lives with his parents.
Combover had an apprentice that used to make me laugh. Christ, he still does. I’ve worked with him since then. He’ll probably read this and complain he got such a shitty alias, sooo, let’s call him… percy. Percy the apprentice used to do a lot of coke with the servers and constantly bombard me with cooking questions.
‘what’s the difference between yellow fin tuna and blue fin?’ or ‘what’s the average cut of a manufactured French fry?’ or ‘what’s the average yield on a potato?’
This type of curiosity drove percy, and today he’s a cocky little fuck with a lot of knowledge and talent inside his misshapen skull. He’s a good kid. He’s a good cook. We talk whisky. when he’s busy or frustrated I ask him questions like ‘do you ever imagine yourself as a AT-AT walker from star wars getting tied up by a tie fighter?’ or ‘who would win in a fight? Mrs. Butterworth or aunt jemima?’ or ‘why does poop smell so bad and taste so good?’
With some rough shit happening at home, my girlfriend melissa and I split. We had plans to marry, but when I told her of my plans to work tireless hours in a kitchen, she decided she had enough. I moved back in with my parents and lived in the basement, like any proud 23 year old.
I guess we should take a minute to discuss the drug problem there. Cocaine flowed through the place like water from a tap. If you asked a server for a coke, you would most likely get a straw, not a glass. combover would walk through the kitchen on his cell phone stating ‘you can get ‘em here for thirty’ and most of the staff was high. One night percy and I watched a kid overdose on cocaine right on our hot line, have a heart attack and he concussed himself hitting his head on a table on the way down, just for good measure. Stay in school kids.
So the routine at little mountain was the same. Don’t smoke, get surprise yelled at, do not drink on Friday nights, train a new guy, get told to go fuck yourself via phone call over my days off, get shorted a hundred bucks on my cheque. In just over a month, I had enough and I was getting ready to tell this guy what I thought, then in typical 50’s gumshoe detective story telling fashion, ‘she’ walked into my life.
‘she’ was tall with blue eyes and the longest blonde hair id ever seen. She was the newest server there and the moment I laid eyes on her I fell instantly in love. She smelled good and looked incredible. My lust was insatiable.
I only stuck around that shit hole for her and after some nervous preparation I finally asked her out for a sushi date. We ate fresh fish, smoked weed, talked music and had a few drinks while watching a dog grooming competition on a broken tv at the local dive bar, ivans. We were a match made in heaven.
She told me we shouldn’t date each other if we were going to work together, so I put in my two weeks notice. For the next two weeks combover rode my ass harder than ever before. He tried to fight me once too. He literally challenged me to go outside with him and threatened my life while I scraped some brown roux from a ten pound skillet that would have easily crushed in his skull in one swipe.
Nope, I wouldn’t have it. I was in love and he wasn’t going to ruin my time.
At the end of the two weeks, at the very end of my very last shift ever, combover approached me with an envelope with a few bonus bucks in it, shook my hand and bought me a beer.
‘I’ve been in business over ten years’ he started. ‘out of all the employees ive ever had, only 6 people have ever given me two weeks’ notice and stuck with it. you’re number 7. Good luck out there man.’
I stepped out the building a proud man. I endured combovers cocaine and adultery filled boot camp. I was high on life and nothing could stop it.
It would, however, come to a crashing hault.